Tips helped Seattle police arrest suspect in fatal hit-and-run
The news that police had arrested a 28-year-old suspect in a hit-and-run accident that killed a 44-year-old bicyclist nearly a year ago was lauded, called "bittersweet" by the director of a bicyclists' club.
Seattle Times staff reportert
Nearly one year after bicyclist Michael Wang was killed by a hit-and-run driver as he rode home from work, Seattle police say tips from the public and old-fashioned detective work have led them to a suspect.
Erlin J. Garcia-Reyes, 28, of Normandy Park, was arrested Wednesday and booked into King County Jail on investigation of a felony hit-and-run death. On Thursday, a King County District Court judge found probable cause to hold him until prosecutors can file charges. His bail was set at $500,000.
The deadline to file charges is Monday.
Wang, 44, a photographer at PATH, a global health nonprofit in Seattle, was headed north on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle shortly before 4 p.m. July 28 when he was struck by an SUV that was making a left turn onto Thomas Street, police said. The driver of the vehicle — which was described as a mid-1990s to mid-2000s beige to brown colored American-made SUV, possibly with tinted windows and a chrome roof rack — fled. Wang, a father of two young children, had commuted by bicycle to his Shoreline home for several years, according to his wife, Claire Allen. The accident sent shock waves through Seattle's biking community, prompting calls for added safety measures for cyclists.
It is not clear from the document of probable cause, released Thursday by the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, what prompted investigators to focus on Garcia-Reyes.
During a news conference Thursday morning at police headquarters, Seattle police Detective Tom Bacon attributed the arrest to tips and traditional police work.
"It was not one particular thing, but a series of things that happened and we put the pieces together," he said.
Police and prosecutors say in the probable-cause document that detectives began to look at Garcia-Reyes in April. Police say Garcia-Reyes' silver 2002 Chevrolet Suburban is similar to the description of the SUV that struck Wang.
Earlier this month, Garcia-Reyes was arrested in another, unrelated, hit-and-run in North Seattle.
In that incident, King County District Court documents allege that Garcia-Reyes was a passenger in a vehicle that drove into the parking lot of the 76 gas station at 10500 Greenwood Ave. N. on Sunday. Instead of pulling straight into a parking stall, the vehicle went over the curb, striking the store's front window and glass door, charging documents say.
The driver jumped into the vehicle's back seat and Garcia -Reyes got into the driver's seat and drove away, according to the court documents. Police and prosecutors say the incident was caught on the gas station's video surveillance.
According to court documents, Garcia-Reyes then went to his girlfriend's home, called 911 and told police that the vehicle — which was registered to him — had been stolen. The unoccupied vehicle was found at an apartment complex in the 10300 block of Fremont Ave. N., the documents say.
Garcia-Reyes was arrested in that case for investigation of hit and run and false reporting. Bail was set at $5,000 and he was released earlier this week from custody pending the filing of criminal charges in that case.
Then, police said, Garcia-Reyes was arrested again on Wednesday after he was interviewed by detectives in his home and acknowledged he was involved in the hit and run in which Wang was killed, the affidavit says.
The affidavit said Garcia-Reyes led detectives to the intersection where Wang was fatally injured.
One of Garcia-Reyes' friends, Alexander Gonzales, attended Thursday's court hearing at the King County Jail and said he planned to bail his friend out. Gonzales told reporters that his friend admitted to being the driver of the vehicle in the fatal accident.
Gonzales, the suspect's friend, said Garcia-Reyes told him that he knew it was wrong to leave the scene, but the accident itself was not the suspect's fault. Garcia-Reyes told Gonzales that he had been turning when Wang ran into the back of his SUV.
Gonzales said Garcia-Reyes, a native of Honduras who has lived in the U.S. for five years, told him he did not stop after the collision because he was afraid and "nervous."
Gonzales said Garcia-Reyes "cried for days," after the accident.
Garcia-Reyes is a cook with two children, Gonzales said, and had planned to put aside some money for his family before turning himself in.
During Thursday's news conference, several representatives of organizations Wang was associated with made statements after the announcement of the arrest.
"It is our sincere hope that this development will lead to some sense of justice and closure for Mike Wang's children, his wife, family, friends and for the people and communities around the world whose stories he told through his wonderful photography," said PATH Director Doug Palm.
Chuck Ayers, the executive director of Cascade Bicycle Club, of which Wang had been a member, said news of the arrest was "bittersweet."
Wang's death had been one in a spate of bicyclists' deaths last year that hit the cycling community hard, he said.
"Our message has been we must do better ... " Ayers said about road safety. He urged people to pay attention, put down their cellphone and unplug their ears, while driving or riding on the road. "It is every person's shared responsibility to look out for each other."
Christine Clarridge can be reached at 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.